Miami MBB: key areas for improvement following its three-game road trip

Guard Nijel Pack dribbles the ball during Miami's game against Pittsburgh on Jan. 28 at the Petersen Events Center. Photo credit: Tessa Mortensen (Miami Athletics)

Over the past week, the University of Miami men’s basketball team played three games on the road, dropping two of them.

The road trip began with a close 68-66 loss in Cameron Indoor Stadium against the Duke Blue Devils on Jan. 21. Despite the defeat, the ‘Canes showed resilience, as they clawed back into the game multiple times when it looked like Duke had them where they wanted. However, Miami could not overcome its poor 34.9% shooting from the field to pick up the win.

“Was it their size or was it the Duke name that bothered us,” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga said after the game. “Was it the crowd? Was it the energy level that was in the gym because sometimes your adrenaline is what creates the problem for you because you can’t calm down and just make a shot.”

Three days later, Miami headed to Tallahassee to face the Florida State Seminoles. The Hurricanes won in dominant fashion, easily securing an 86-63 victory. The ‘Canes bounced back from their poor shooting performance against Duke, as they shot an excellent 56% from the field and 50% from 3-point range.

The Hurricanes closed their three-game road trip with a visit to the Petersen Events Center on Saturday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Panthers. Miami held a 68-60 advantage with only 2:26 left in the game, but the Panthers stormed back with an 11-0 run to win the contest, 71-68.

Finishing the road trip 1-2 with a brutal collapse against Pittsburgh is not ideal for Miami, but there is a lot of optimism to be had and much to build on for the Hurricanes moving forward.

Three of Miami’s next four games will be home at the Watsco Center, where the ‘Canes are undefeated this season. It is a great opportunity for Miami to regain the confidence it played with earlier in the year and bounce back from the tough road trip.

However, there are a couple of things the ‘Canes will need to clean up if they have any hopes of winning the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

First, shooting efficiency, especially from the star backcourt of Nijel Pack and Isaiah Wong, often turns the tide of any matchup. In the losses to Duke and Pittsburgh, Pack and Wong shot a combined 15 of 42 (35.7%) from the field, but in the victory over Florida State, the pair shot 11 of 19 (57.9%).

Seeing that the two losses on the road trip came by a combined five points, just a handful of shots going Miami’s way would have greatly impacted those games.

When Pack and Wong are hitting their shots, Miami is an extremely difficult team to beat. If the shooting efficiency from the backcourt levels out, expect Miami to pick up more wins down the stretch.

Turnovers are another key stat for Miami as it has cost them at certain points, especially against Pittsburgh where the ‘Canes coughed the ball up 12 times.

“We obviously don’t want turnovers. A couple of times we thought we had great opportunities to finish the play and we didn’t,” Larrañaga said after losing to Pittsburgh.

If the Hurricanes can clean up their sloppy play, they will be one of the nation’s most formidable teams heading into the NCAA tournament in March.

Finally, the offensive glass is a key area for improvement for the Hurricanes. In the two losses over the past week, Miami’s opponents grabbed twice as many rebounds as the ‘Canes, 28-14.

These rebounds created multiple second chance opportunities for Duke and Pittsburgh and were key to both close defeats. Improvement in this area comes from boxing out better and giving extra support to forward Norchad Omier on the glass. Omier led the ‘Canes in rebounds for every game over the road trip, but if Miami cannot have at least one other player step up on the offensive glass, it will suffer more discouraging losses.

Miami has many pivotal conference games coming up, the first of which will come against the Virginia Tech Hokies on Tuesday at the Watsco Center. If the ‘Canes can improve in the previously mentioned areas and clean up occasional sloppy play, they will be a scary team in March.